Article Preview (Part 2): If you just surfed into Part 2, I recommend going back to Part 1. The account hiding behind this humble sounding title really makes crystal clear the purpose for seven of the parables of Yeshua (Jesus). I seriously doubt that you have considered anything like this before. Are the so-called Parables of the Kingdom really just fuzzy notions about the coming Kingdom or could they have to do with the present realities of our time?
The mystery of iniquity (lawlessness) was already at work when the New Testament was being written. Today, nearly 2000 years later, it has become full-fledged. The world is rushing blindly, headlong, toward the precipice. There have been few, if any, more critical times in human history than the world we live in right at this moment. God’s true people need to be the most vigilant, awake, aware, informed, and involved individuals on the face of the earth! Many believers have been victims of various church wars, their feelings have been hurt, their faith in certain men and organizations dashed. I know what that means, because I’ve been there, yet blunt as it may sound, my advice is simply to GET OVER IT! There are far bigger issues that ought to be on our agenda. We have challenging responsibilities that are set before, and much work to do. Reflect on the words of our Savior when He said:
“My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say unto you, LIFT UP YOUR EYFS, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit unto life eternal: that both he that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One sows, and another reaps .... The harvest truly is great, but the LABORERS ARE FEW: pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest” (John 4:34-37 & Luke 10:2).
Those words, spoken centuries ago in a world far less mad, far less dangerous, far less deceptive, far less dark, than the one in which we live, are more significant and applicable today than ever before in human history! Do we who believe, having been coddled in ease and luxury for so long, having seldom, if ever, been encouraged to become truly sacrificial disciples who put their very lives on the line, dare to say, “The harvest is still a long way off. We have plenty of time. Relax, don’t worry, be happy?”
We must be compelled to take the words of Christ and the entire unfolding of world events, much more to heart than we ever have. If we are to be of use to the Master, it is mandatory that we start making determined moves to extricate ourselves from the ways, the distractions, the routines, the agendas, and the systems 01world. If we do not, we will be swept along with the tide, a tide that will soon become a worldwide tsunami of unimaginable proportions! The Scriptures warn that those who persist in remaining where they are in the web of evil that is gripping this planet are going to become more and more taken in and deceived by what will transpire, and eventually utterly destroyed! Paul writes to you and me:
“For the mystery of iniquity [Gk. Anomia—against and without the Torah of Elohim (God)] does already work... Then shall that Wicked One be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth ... whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that are perishing; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them STRONG DELUSION, that they should BELIEVE A LIE: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12).
[Here is a key not to be overlooked: these “damned” did not “receive” (literally: accept) “the love of the truth” but rather by choice preferred or “had pleasure in” (literally: thought well of)“unrighteousness” (literally: injustice). It is “for this cause” [reason] that their minds are incapable of repentance! Satan will simply put humanity on the fast track to where people would have individually ended up, had they had a full lifetime to make choices leading to judgment—for better or worse—as explained in Are the “Unsaved” Lost?. —Lon]
This third kingdom parable put forth by the Messiah is also very well known among readers of the Bible, but again, note that, as in the previous two instances, the teaching involved has far more to do with conditions and situations prior to the onset of the Messianic Kingdom. This story is only two verses in length, and probably took about ten seconds or less to say, but the meaning is quite profound. We read in Matthew the following:
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32).
Fully 99.9% of the explanations of this parable follow roughly the same line, in that the kingdom itself is the mustard seed, having therefore a very small beginning, but eventually growing into a great tree. Now, admittedly this interpretation sounds good, and, on first reading it, indeed appears to be absolutely correct. But is it really? In this study, we will consider another possible avenue of thinking in regard to this parable.
Please keep in mind that these seven parables of Matthew 13 form a whole. Each one of the stories must be considered within the context of the complete picture that is being painted. One parable in the group cannot contradict any of the others. Thus, before we begin the parable of the mustard seed, let’s briefly recapitulate.
In the first story, the allegory of the sower, Yahshua [actually Yeshua] specifically informs the disciples (in every age) that the good seed which they are to sow will fall mostly on poor soil, and that even if a certain type of this ground appears to produce a crop, it will prove to be weak, defective, transitory, and worthless. It seems apparent that even with respect to the good soil there will be a great variation in productivity.
In the parable of the tares we are told that believers should expect the enemy to be out in force, sowing bad seed right alongside the good. The false grain produced by the bad seed will be difficult to spot, because it will closely resemble the good wheat. It will also be poisonous if consumed, but amazingly it will not be removed from the field. The good seed will therefore be compelled to grow up in the midst of not only bad or poisonous seed, but also false or deceptive seed. Indeed, following the natural growth process, it stands to reason that the longer the tares remain in the field, the larger and more developed they become, and consequently the more threatening and potentially damaging the effect on the good seed. So, even though the first two stories are said to be kingdom parables, they actually relate events and circumstances that are to transpire during the interim period between the two advents of the Messiah.
There are four main elements presented in the third parable—the mustard seed, the field in which the seed is sown, the tree that grows from that seed, and the birds of the air that nest in the tree itself. In the first two stories, the meaning of the field is clearly established—it represents the world. It is that which is of the earth, of the flesh. A problem arises, however, when it is assumed that this current parable portrays the kingdom of heaven as a little seed that grows and becomes great in the world. This is an erroneous analogy, and is flatly contradicted by Yahshua’s words to Pilate, when He says:
“My kingdom is NOT OF THIS WORLD: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
The mustard seed that is sown becomes a great tree as it puts down roots deeply into the earth (the world). A towering tree smacks of prominence, exaltation, and loftiness, not the lowliness, humility, sacrifice, and suffering so strongly attached to the life and calling of the true saints during this era of time.
Mustard is an herb. It was not created to become a great tree. The normal maximum height of a mustard plant is about 4 feet, although there have been a few specimens as high as 12-15 feet. And, while it is true that certain birds do eat the seeds of these shrubs, they virtually never build their nests in them! It simply is not an appropriate home site. So, what are we to make of the Messiah’s use of the mustard seed in this parable?
Rather than picture some kind of gigantic normal growth, the mustard seed in this instance appears to be utilized as a kind of abnormal growth. According to an entry in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
Normally attaining a maximum height of 1.2 meters ... the SPINDLY appearance of the mature shrub might convey the EXPRESSION of a LARGE TREE when compared with them minuteness of the seed, but in any event the contrast is a deliberate exaggeration” (Vol. 111, p. 449).
A tree with birds lodging in its branches should sound familiar, as it takes us back in history to the time of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. One night he had a strange dream, the meaning of which he could not determine. In Daniel 4,beginning in verse 10, he relates what he saw:
“Thus were the visions of my head in my bed; I saw, and behold a TREE in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was GREAT. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth. The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the FOWLS of heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof .... Belteshazzar [Daniel] answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate you, and the interpretation thereof to your enemies. The TREE that you saw which grew ... whose leaves were fair ... and upon whose branches the FOWLS of heaven had their habitation: It is YOU, O king, that are grown and become strong: for your greatness is grown, and reached unto heaven, and your dominion to the ’end of the earth” (Daniel 4:10-12,19-22).
You may have never connected this tree with the birds in its branches with the parable of the mustard seed, but perhaps this ought to be a consideration. If so, then Yahshua is warning His disciples (of all eras) that while they are busy laboring for the true kingdom of heaven, there will also occur the arising of a great world system—indeed that Mystery Babylon anciently depicted in Scripture by a tree produced from the abnormal growth of a tiny seed, a tree providing the fowls of the air a place to nest in its branches!
When God made the Abrahamic Covenant official, He did so by a special sacrifice known as the covenant of the cutting. We read about this in Genesis 15, where God commands:
“Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he [Abraham] took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds he did not divide. And when the FOWLS came down upon the carcasses, Abraham drove them away” (Genesis 15:9-1 1).
What is the significance the fowls in this passage? The purpose of this rather unusual ceremony was to confirm the great covenant made with Abraham, a covenant that would ultimately result in the birth of the Messiah and the blessing of the entire world by the kingdom of heaven. The fowls coming down upon the carcasses of the sacrificial animals are symbolically attacking the body of the Savior, and thus are representative of and prefigure the agents of Satan set in opposition to Christ and the plan of God for humanity. But the Father, foreshadowed in this ancient ritual by Abraham himself, will drive the vultures away, thus effectively thwarting their efforts to destroy His holy purposes.
Later, when God pronounces the curses that will come upon Israel for their disobedience, He states:
“The Lord shall cause you to be smitten before your enemies ... and your carcass shall be meat unto all FOWLS OF THE AIR... and NO MAN SHALL FRIGHTEN THEM AWAY!” (Deuteronomy 28:25-26).
This passage provides a very informative contrast to the one quoted just before in that when God brings the fowls upon the carcass, no one will be able to drive them away, as Abraham did! In both instances, we see how the fowls of the air are used in Scripture to portray that which attacks, tears, and eats away at something.
When King David stood face-to-face with Goliath of Gath, the Philistine champion derisively sneered at his frail opponent, boasting:
“Come to me, and I will give your flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field” (1 Samuel 17:44).
This sort of descriptive language is used over and over again in the pages of the Bible, and typically the fowls of the air are seen as scavengers, birds of prey, as representative of evil or enmity, as being present when carnage ensues, as showing up when horrible punishments are meted out.
There is another very striking passage in the Old Testament where both symbols employed in the parable of the mustard seed; the great tree and the birds are seen. Note the following prophecy in Ezekiel 31:
“Behold, the Assyrian was a CEDAR in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud of a HIGH STATURE; and his top was among the thick boughs ... Therefore his height was EXALTED above all the trees of the field, and his boughs multiplied, and his branches became long .... All the FOWLS OF HEAVEN made their nests in his boughs... and under his shadow dwelt all great nations” (Ezekiel 31:3,5-6).
Here again we have an evil nation or system represented as a great tree in whose branches lodged the fowls of heaven. We are told in Ezekiel:
“Speak unto every feathered FOWL .... Assemble yourselves one very side to My slaughter that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh, and drink blood ... till you be drunken” (Ezekiel 39:17-19).
And in Revelation:
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the FOWLS that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves unto the supper of the great God; that you may eat the flesh of kings ... of captains, and ... of mighty men” (Revelation 19:17-18).
Indeed the final fall of Babylon the great itself is described in eerily similar language in Revelation 18:
“And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power .... And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of demons, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful BIRD” (Revelation 18:1-2).
Note that in this passage the birds are equated not just with evil, but also with demons and every foul spirit! The connection couldn’t more direct, but we really don’t even have to go outside Matthew 13 itself to discover whether the birds are good or bad. All we have to do is read verse 4 in the story of the sower:
“And when he had sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the FOWLS came and DEVOURED THEM UP” (Matthew 13:4).
The word rendered fowls in verse four of the first parable is precisely the same as the word translated birds in verse 32 with regard to the story of the mustard seed! And just who or what do the birds represent? The answer is given in Matthew:
“When anyone bears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the WICKED ONE, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside” (Matthew 13:19).
This is the most direct Scriptural connection possible. The words are spoken by the Messiah, they speak in both instances of birds or fowls, and they are uttered in the very same context, on the very same occasion, and concern the very same subject!
The fact is that, not only can a strong case be made from the Bible that the tree with birds nesting in its branches has an evil connotation, but it is quite well established in secular history that the same symbolism was anciently attached to this theme.
What an incredible picture is unveiled when we realize that these first three parables of Matthew 13 actually reveals specific prophetic information regarding what to expect during the time when the gospel is preached upon the earth! And indeed we have lived to witness it come to pass precisely as the Savior predicted!
The Babylonian mysteries were long ago inculcated into the religious entity that would come to dominate so-called Christianity on the world scene. Indeed the mustard seed has experienced the utmost in abnormal growth, and has spread its tentacles throughout the earth. It has perverted the truth of God, preached another gospel, heralded another Messiah, deceived the whole world, and put to sleep the masses that have sought shelter under it dark shadow. And who has taken up lodging like fowls of the air in the top of this tree? None other than the evil spirits and demonic forces controlling this ghastly system that has overspread the entire planet!
Diluting the pure truth of the Scriptures, rejecting as too Jewish the Torah of the Almighty, this great tree has become the personification of anomia—lawlessness! Indeed, it is an integral part of the mystery of iniquity (anomia). Professing Christianity has become great in the earth. Simple synagogues and house-church soon gave way to majestic cathedrals, and what began as the priesthood of the believer mutated into the priesthood of the clergy ruling over the believers.
Long ago, the ostensible Christian Church insinuated herself into the governments of the world, gaining more and more leverage over the lives and the fortunes of the unsuspecting masses. Christianity has made herself appealing by offering food and shelter from her grotesque labyrinth of branch-like tentacles. Embracing a form of godliness, she has denied the true power thereof, and arrogated what should have been the influence and leadership of the Holy Spirit unto herself. And what shall we now say, but that the rest is history! The evil results are everywhere to be found. The nations have been made drunk on the wine of this harlot, and her sins have reached unto the heavens!
The fourth kingdom parable of Matthew 13 is the shortest of the lot, and yet is popularly interpreted in virtually the same careless manner as the one we just discussed. The story itself is but a single verse in length, and reads as follows:
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto LEAVEN, which a WOMAN took, and HID in THREE MEASURES OF MEAL, till the WHOLE was LEAVENED” (Matthew 13:33).
Although the key words are obviously not difficult to spot, for clarity’s sake I have emphasized them anyway. Almost without thinking, most readers of the Bible, from the minister to the new convert, will read this parable assume that Yahshua is simply saying the kingdom will grow huge, like a small amount of leaven will expand dough into a large loaf. I believe, however, that a good case can again be made for another approach to this analogy.
When the term leaven is used as a symbol in the Bible, we all know that something other than baking bread is most likely involved. And certainly such is the case in this instance. Leaven, as a Biblical type, almost always has the same connotation. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, it unquestionably represents sin or sinners. And yet, the Messiah chose this word to teach important truth that in some respect is related to the kingdom.
Everyone is aware that a leavening agent serves as a catalyst in the process of transforming an otherwise rather unpalatable combination of flour, water, and a little salt into a fully risen loaf of tasty bread. The chemical action generated by yeast or some other form of leavening causes dough to expand, and consequently, the Bible far and away, uses the term leaven as a symbol of that which puffs up or inflates the heart of man. We are very familiar with such usage, because one of the three annual festival seasons is the Passover, a word that embraces the seven-day period known as the Days of Unleavened Bread, that unique time when God commands that all leaven be removed from one’s home and property.
To the ancient Israelites, unleavened bread was considered the bread of affliction and the bread of haste, due to its relationship to the bondage of Egypt from which they were delivered. While it still holds this meaning, it is also viewed by believers in a deeper spiritual sense as well, for it stands as a great type of the Messiah Himself, the true Unleavened or sinless Bread. Thus, the task of putting leaven out of one’s home is usually seen as being tantamount to the removal of sin from one’s life. What actually transpires is that unleavened bread displaces the leavened bread, and for that special seven-day period is representative of ingesting Christ, of His entering into and taking up residence in a believer’s spiritual life. We understand the Days of Unleavened Bread to portray therefore the lifelong process of sanctification.
With regard to leaven as a Biblical type, we need hardly cite numerous references, but for the sake of completeness in this study, here are a few passages where the underlying meaning of leaven is revealed. In I Corinthians 5, Paul writes concerning a heinous sin that in the local assembly:
“It is commonly reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And you are PUFFED UP, and have not rather mourned ....Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little LEAVEN leavens the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump .... Therefore let us keep the feast, [of Unleavened Bread] not with old leaven, neither with the LEAVEN OF MALICE AND WICKEDNESS, but the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2,6-8).
And, in his letter to the Galatians, he again uses leaven as a type of sin, saying:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage .... You did run well; who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion comes not of Him that calls you. A little LEAVEN leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:1,7-9).
In both epistles the term leaven means sin or false doctrine. The use of this analogy was quite familiar to most people in the first century, since bread making was done in virtually every home, and the characteristics of yeast were very well known. On several occasions, Christ Himself utilized the word in this fashion, saying:
“Take heed and beware the LEAVEN of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves .... Which when Jesus perceived, He said unto them .... How is it that you do not understand that I spoke to you not concerning bread, but that you should beware of the LEAVEN of the Pharisees and of the ’Sadducees? Then they understood how He bade them not to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the DOCTRINE of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6-8,11-12).
“And He charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the LEAVEN of the Pharisees, and of the LEAVEN of Herod” (Mark 8:15).
Even in the face of this plain evidence, however, it remains customary to interpret the leaven I the parable of Matthew 13 as a picture of the gospel being preached, and the resultant expansion of the kingdom. Such a conclusion, however, flies in the face of the previous three stories in this chapter, and is in disagreement with many other Scriptures, a few of which we have already cited. Furthermore, notice carefully the following words of Christ:
“And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why do you speak unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, but unto them it is not given .... All these things spoke Jesus unto the multitudes in parables; and without a parable spoke He not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been KEPT SECRET from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35).
Note that these parables contain mysteries of the kingdom, things never before revealed. This statement precludes the possibility that the leaven could represent the gospel, since the good news of the coming kingdom was not a secret in earlier times. It was not hidden. Paul expressly contradicts such a contention by saying:
“The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the GOSPEL UNTO ABRAHAM, saying, In You shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Galatians 3:8-9).
And in Hebrews we read further confirmation:
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the GOSPEL PREACHED, as well, UNTO THEM: [ancient Israel] but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Hebrews 4:1-2).
Clearly, therefore, the leaven cannot be typical of the gospel message being preached and thus producing a great increase or huge kingdom. The good news was not hidden from the foundation of the world! It was not a mystery of the kingdom. What the Messiah is revealing in the parables of Matthew13 constitute something else entirely.
Consider also the time frame during which the parable of the leaven is being spoken. It is first-century Judea. The audience is almost totally Jewish or certainly Semitic. Their familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures would have led them to connect the symbolic use of leaves to a concept of sin or evil. Such a relationship was quite well known and common at that point in time. In fact, every other New Testament use of the terms leaven, leavened, or leaveneth, carry with it the connotation of sin or evil. There are no exceptions whatsoever. Why then would we entertain the notion that the reference to leaven in the Matthew 13 story would be any different? Clearly there is no valid reason to do so.
In addition to the leaven, we also have another type in this parable that is expressed in the phrase three measures of meal. Those who teach that the leaven represents the gospel also understand the meal in which the leaven is hidden to be symbolic of the world or the human race, since, after all, this is where the gospel is dispensed and where it works. Such an interpretation, however, once again conflicts with the Scriptures in every way.
Meal is made from grain, and grain is good, both in terms of physical food, and with respect to Biblical types. Note carefully that in the parable of the tares, the wheat is the good grain, which produces the true believers. it is the tares who symbolize that which is evil. But far above this consideration is the established fact of Scripture that the Savior Himself is compared favorably to grain and its products. Time after time we read in the New Testament such references as the Bread of life and living bread. Yahshua, of course, compared His own body to the bread that was eaten with the final meal before His death.
In the Old Testament we have numerous references to meal, flour, and bread, and they are almost always favorable and positive. The meal or grain offering constituted a major component of the sacrificial system of ancient Israel. The grain was cut from the field and ground until fine, then passed through smaller and smaller sieves. All of this process was typical of the Messiah and His followers. In fact this is the heart and core of what is being discussed with respect to the meal in the parable of the leaven. It was into the righteous, Godly meal that the evil leaven was put. Just as in the first three kingdom parables, this word picture is painted by Christ to be a WARNING to the disciples (of all eras) as to what will transpire during the period the kingdom is being preached. And it is more applicable today than it was nearly 2,000 years ago!
There is an episode that occurred during the life of Abraham that is directly connected to the parable we are studying. It is recorded in Genesis 18, where we read:
“And the Lord “[Yehovah]” appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre ... and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, Io, three end 20 stood by him ... and he said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, pass not away .... Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched ... and I will fetch a morsel of bread ... And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly THREE MEASURES OF FINE MEAL, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth .... And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat” (Genesis 18:1-6, 8).
Perhaps under other circumstances, this passage might not get a lot of attention, but like everything else contained in this book, it is of significance. Abraham is graced by the presence of three very distinguished guests who appear at his tent door. He asks Sarah to prepare bread from three measures of meal, the precise amount that appears in the parable of the leaven. This is by no means coincidental.
The Greek word for measures is “saton”, and is the exact equivalent of the Hebrew term “seah” used in the story of Abraham and his meeting with the Lord. The cakes that Sarah makes are undoubtedly a kind of unleavened bread, perhaps akin to the semi-soft Yemenite matzoh (apparently the crisp thin style developed much later in history). It is interesting that, according to certain rabbinic teaching, the very reason for using three matzot at the Passover Seder is an illusion to the three measures of meal that Abraham requested. In fact, the Jews have long thought that this event recorded in Genesis 18 took place at or about the time of Passover.
We cannot overlook the solemnity of this meeting between Abraham, and these three individuals, because they were definitely not ordinary men. One of them, in fact, was the Lord or Yahweh [actually Yehovah’—Lon] Himself. Therefore, this was no mean occurrence! The setting is paramount to understanding the spiritual significance of this first mention of the phrase three measures of meal.
Although Abraham lived several hundred years before Moses, we still see in this ancient story a prefiguring of things to come. In the table of Hebrew weights and measures, the smallest dry unit is the omer. Three omers comprise one seah or measure, and three measures make up one ephah. According to the Torah (Numbers 15:8-9), a seah or measure is the least acceptable amount for a grain offering. Abraham, as you can easily determine, requested Sarah to prepare three seahs of meal, or three times what would eventually be required as a sacrifice. In this regard, he may well have set the standard for going above and beyond what is required, for we read in Judges 6 the description of Gideon’s special sacrifice when Yahweh appeared before him as he thrashed wheat by the winepress in Ophrah:
“Depart not thence, I pray you, until I come unto You, and bring forth my present, and set it before You. And He [the “Lord”] said, l will tarry until you come again. And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an EPHAH of flour ... and brought it out unto Him under the oak, and presented it” (Judges 6:18-19).
Gideon offered precisely the same amount of grain as did Abraham. Remember that one ephah equals three measures. In like manner, when Hannah took her son Samuel, whom she had dedicated unto God, and presented him to Eli the priest, she too gave a special offering, which we read about in I Samuel 1:
“When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, and one ephah of meal, and a bottle of wine, and brought him to Yehovah’s 'Temple' in Shiloh. The child was young. 25 They killed the bull, and brought the child to Eli.” (1 Samuel 1:24-25).
Furthermore, in the instructions given to Ezekiel concerning sacrifices at the future Temple, we are told with regard to the Sabbath, annual festivals, and new moons:
“And he shall prepare a meal offering of an EPHAH for a bullock, and an ephah for a ram, and a hin or oil for an ephah” (Ezekiel 45:24& 46:5,7, 11).
With respect to the meal offerings under the Mosaic covenant in general, the main command is given in Leviticus.
Note carefully the following instructions:
“And when any will offer a meal offering unto the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour ... and if you bring an offering of a meal offering baked in the oven, it shall be UNLEAVENED cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil .... NO MEAL OFFERING, which you shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with LEAVEN” (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 11).
This information, particularly the prohibition against the use of leaven in a meal offering, is very important and must be seriously considered in coming to an accurate understanding of the Messiah’s words in the parable of the leaven. Remember the setting in which this story is being told. It is first-century Judea. His audience is Jewish. The multitudes would immediately connect the phrase three measures of meal with the very commands and examples from Scripture that we have just covered. And when Yahshua tells them that the woman in the story takes leaven and hides it in three measures of meal, they would have been aghast, for such action is in direct violation of the Torah! Therefore, even without an explanation being given, their instant reaction to this parable would be decidedly negative, not positive, as is the typical Christian response! We are, therefore, compelled to rethink the meaning of this parable.
While, under almost all circumstances, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with leaven and the consumption of leavened products in the normal routine of human life, in the spiritual sense, this agent is used by God as a type of that which corrupts, and, as such, it stands for false doctrine and sin. In order to paint the correct picture, leaven was not permitted to be included in a meal offering, since to do so would be symbolic of the pure sacrifice being polluted.
The three measures of meal in Christ’s short parable are representative of the right and good teaching that comes from God, as well as the lives of true believers who understand, receive, and obey the divine instruction, and who are followers of the Messiah. The introduction of leaven into the meal therefore symbolizes a corrupting influence.
Note also the fact that the leaven is not simply dumped into the mixing bowl, as it were, but rather is hidden in the meal. This is yet another significant detail in this seemingly simplistic, one verse parable. To describe the process as hiding the leaven in the meal conjures up some sort of diabolical scheme, something evil done in secret, something poisonous deceptively introduced into the true Body of Christ and the true body of Torah/gospel teaching. This is some sort of corrupting influence from the outside.
The Greek word translated hid in Matthew 13:33 is “enkrupto”, from which we derive the English term encrypt, and a most intriguing word this is, for encrypt caries with it the meaning of something secret, occult, mysterious, puzzling, involving the use of a code. This word is applicable particularly to messages or transmissions, in which certain letters have been encrypted or arranged according to a code, and only someone with the key to the encryption knows what the message is really saying. This process is often associated with intelligence work, spy operations, and wartime transmissions, but it also applies to any message that contains a hidden code. The root word for the Greek enkrupto means to cover, conceal, or keep secret, and has the connotation of being sneaky, covert, and surreptitious.
Another of the key symbolic factors in this analogy is the woman. Of course, she remains nameless, as is appropriate in such a teaching situation, but she is unquestionably representative of something important in the story. With regard to the Biblical usage of the word woman as a type, like the term leaven, it is often related to some sort of evil, especially a false religious system. When Israel fell into gross idolatry, especially that of Baal-worship, God called her a lewd woman, and accused her of “playing the harlot” (Jeremiah 2-20; Ezekiel 16:15; Hosea 4:15). And in the book of Revelation, concerning the evil system called Babylon the Great, John writes:
“I saw a WOMAN sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy ... and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE MOTHER OF HALOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:3,5).
These references to a harlot also remind us of Jezebel, who enticed Israel into the most despicable forms of Baal-worship. When Jehu encountered Jehoram, the son of Jezebel, the king wanted to know if he came in peace, to which Jehu exclaimed:
“What peace, so long as the WHOREDOMS of your mother JEZEBEL and her witchcrafts are so many” (2 Kings 9:22).
Jezebel was so evil in the sight of Yahweh that her name became a byword in Israel for idolatry and false worship. She is even mentioned in the New Testament in one of the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, namely the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-24). In fact, there appears to be a kind of pattern that ties these church letters to the parables of Matthew 13. For instance, there are seven churches and seven parables. In only one of the letters do we find a woman mentioned, and only one of the parables speaks of a woman. In both instances, the woman is evil. The letter to Thyatira is the fourth in the series of seven, and amazingly, the fourth story in Matthew 13 is the parable of the leaven! None of this is mere coincidence.
Though the parables of Matthew 13 refer to the kingdom of heaven, we are seeing clearly that they actually are a series of warnings pertaining to the so-called Church era. In Revelation 2 and 3, the letters are addressed to seven literal churches in Asia Minor. So, in other words, the seven letters speak to the very same issues as do the parables of Matthew 13, namely, the Church and its work!
Notice now how closely the first four churches in Revelation 2 correspond to the first four parables in Matthew 13:
We read in Revelation 2 where Christ says:
“I know your works, your LABOR , and your patience, and how ... you have tried them which say they are APOSTLES. and are not, and have found them liars: and have borne, and had patience, and for My name’s sake have LABORED, and have not fainted .... To him that overcomes will I give to EAT of the TREE OF LIFE” (Revelation 2:2-3,7).
More than any of the seven letters, this first one, written to the church at Ephesus, focuses on their actual labor in the gospel for the sake of Christ’s name. This would effectively correspond to the sowing of good seed in the first parable of Matthew 13. The letter to Ephesus is also the only one of the group that mentions the word apostles. In this case, it is a reference to false apostles, but a false apostle presupposes that there were true apostles as well. The fact that the original spread of the gospel was actually done by the apostles is significant with regard to connecting the first parable with the first church letter.
The correspondence to Ephesus concludes with the only promise among the seven letters relating to something grown from the ground, namely here, the tree of life, which was in the Garden of Eden. In the first parable of Matthew 13, of course, the subject has altogether to do with that which is grown from the ground and eaten.
The second Church letter is dedicated to Smyrna, and states:
“I know your works, and TRIBULATION, and poverty (but you are rich), and I know the BLASPHEMY of them which SAY they are JEWS, and ARE NOT, but are the SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN. Fear none of those things which you shall SUFFER: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you maybe tried .... He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the SECOND DEATH” (Revelation 2:9-11).
The second parable of Matthew 13 deals with the problem of tares—false brethren, who are intermingled with the true believers. They appear to be righteous and authentic, but they are really imposters, precisely as are those who say they are Jews, and are not!
The letter to Smyrna emphasizes suffering, trial, tribulation, and persecution—exactly the kind of actions that one would anticipate a counterfeit Christian to inflict upon the true saints. And the second letter concludes with a reference to being protected from the Second Death, which is associated with the lake of fire. Do you recall what the fate of the tares is in the parable of Matthew 13? They are gathered up and burned!
In the letter to the church at Pergamos, another city along the ancient Roman mail route in Asia Minor, we read the following:
“I know your works, and where you dwell, even where SATAN’S SEAT is: and you hold fast My name, and have not denied My faith .... But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the DOCTRINE OF BALAAM, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So have you also them that hold the DOCTRINE OF THE NICOLAITANS, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:13-15).
Note that in this third letter we have two false doctrines introduced, that of Balaam and that of the Nicolaitans, both of which are viewed as being among the believers. In his short epistle, Jude warns the brethren that false teachers had entered in among the true believers, corrupting the pure truth of the Scriptures and the gospel message. In fact, he is moved to strongly exhort his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). In other words, circumstances have reached a critical mass, for as the early Church has been slowly developing, so has a false faith, but at a much greater rate of increase, to the point that the true Body is about to be overtaken by the false one. When he appeals to the brethren to earnestly contend for the original faith, the Greek word used, “epagonizomai”, means to struggle mightily for, to be in agony for. This is a very forceful term, and is the clearest indication of just how powerful the opposition had become by this time in the first century. The true faith was becoming in danger of being exterminated!
In the discussion of this crucial situation, Jude makes mention of the error of Balaam in the following passage:
“Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the ERROR OF BALAAM for REWARD, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah” (Jude 11).
Balaam, as you will recall, was a renowned pagan seer from the area of Mesopotamia south of Carchemish. In Numbers 22, we read that his help was enlisted by Balak, king of Moab, who had become alarmed at the encampment of the Israelites in the adjacent Jordan Valley. He offered Balaam money if he would prophesy against Israel, an offer that Balaam eventually accepted, although he was prohibited by Yahweh pronouncing evil upon the Israel.
While a certain air of mystery surrounds Balaam in the Old Testament, we are left with no doubt as to his character. He is pictured as the archetype of the false teachers who infiltrated the early Church, perverting the truth for the sake of personal monetary gain, a practice that has through the centuries become the very standard of ostensible Christianity.
With respect to the other false doctrine mentioned in the letter to Pergamos, that of the Nicolaitans, the actual definition of the word itself identifies the nature of this evil. It is composed of two Greek terms: “nikao” that means to conquer, and “lao” which is defined as the laity. Nicolaitan, therefore, actually means, “to conquer the laity”. The presence of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans in the latter stages of the first-century reveals that the most wretched and damaging of all evils were already encroaching upon the true Church.
In order for this practice to become dominant required that the Satanic principle of divide and conquer be employed by the Perpetrators of a false system of worship. And this is precisely what transpired. Gradually, false teachers gained positions of prominence, and began to assume authority that was never intended to be a part of the Body of Messiah. In doing so, a division was created between the clergy and the rest of the people. This, of course, was nothing more than a subtle transfer of the ancient Babylonian approach, wherein there were two classes of people—the priests who were the guardians of the mysteries, and the masses. This system of control eventually became the norm in what began to pass for Christianity. Any true believer who stood in opposition was summarily excommunicated and severely dealt with. By the time of Constantine, all caution was thrown to the wind, and the Roman Catholic Church emerged as the powerful State religious system that has controlled Christianity from that point onward even to this very day!
The two evil doctrines, one of Balaam and the other of the Nicolaitans, both of which are prominent in the letter to Pergamos tie in perfectly with the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13. The tree in this story represents the great, powerful, far-reaching false religious system that is directly connected to the ancient Babylonian mysteries embodied in the tree of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 4. The birds that nest in the top branches of the tree picture the Satanically empowered leaders and controllers of this evil system.
Remember also that in the letter to Pergamos, mention is made of Satan’s seat (Revelation 2:13). The Greek word for seat is “thronos”, and is connected with power and authority, the very issues involved with both the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and with the evil birds of Matthew 13.
John writes the following words to the church at Thyatira:
“I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience ... and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that WOMAN JEZEBEL, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants .... Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the reins and hearts” (Revelation 2:19-20,22-23).
We have already established a very strong connection between the fourth church letter of Revelation 2 and the fourth parable in Matthew 13. Not only do we have the Jezebel evil woman symbolism in both passages, but also the fact that they both are at the halfway mark in their respective series of seven. This is significant because the mid-point in many groups of seven in the Bible seems to be of critical import. We see this in both good and bad situations (i.e., the last seven years of tribulation divided at the crucial mid-point, or the seven-branched menorah with the fourth or center candle being the highest and representative of the Messiah).
In the fourth parable, the woman hides leaven in the meal. In the letter to Thyatira, we can clearly perceive what that leaven really is, for the woman Jezebel is characterized as a false prophetess who seduces God’s people, causing them to commit spiritual fornication.
A final tie-in can be seen in the fact that in the parable the leaven is hidden, and in the fourth letter, Yahshua refers to Himself as the One who searches the reins and the hearts. One need not search for that which is not hidden. Obviously, therefore, if the Messiah is searching His Body, he is doing so to uncover something evil and corrupt that is hidden from clear sight, or, perhaps put another way, that masquerades as the true Church, but is really the secret enclave of Satan himself!
The woman in the parable of the leaven, therefore, is indicative of a false church or religious system that uses intrigue, seduction, and deception to hide within the true Body of saints the corrupting leaven of false worship or false doctrine. When the Messiah came on the scene, He immediately sensed that this evil system had already begun to permeate Jewish philosophy and practice. This is why He warned the early disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and of Herod, because these formed the core of leadership, influence, and control in first-century Judea, and the leaven was already working strong in these areas.
The corrupting influence of this Babylonian/Hellenistic religious system upon those who became followers of Yahshua would soon become evident as the first century played out and the Messiah is careful to warn the disciples of what to expect. And absolutely nothing has changed since He spoke those words nearly 2,000 years, except that the woman is more powerful than ever, and the leaven indeed has now leavened virtually the whole loaf!
Now for Part 3
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